A story that was 2 years in the running was how Major League Baseball and the Players Association would negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Based on the negotiations from 2020, there was going to be some fireworks and plenty of posturing through the media as one side tried to out-leverage the other. This winter, it would come as no surprise as the owners would immediately institute a lockout on the players the day the previous CBA expired. Over the next 99 days there was plenty of media posturing in a clash of Rob Manfred press statements and players voicing their displeasure on the process over Twitter. The start of the season was already threatened with the possibility of cancelled games coming into play, but that will not be too problematic as the two sides have come to an agreement today.
Told it was a 26-12 vote— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) March 10, 2022
The biggest negotiating points for the players was raising the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT), raising the minimum salary for MLB players, and a separate bonus pool to pay pre-arbitration players who vastly outperform their salaries. On the other side, the owners were certainly looking to slow the rate of salary growth as well as take a chance at union busting. Ultimately after a lot of posturing, both sides hit a breakthrough last night when they were able to negotiate in a future international draft. After that final significant hurdle, it took less than 24 hours for both sides to reach an agreement.
In this deal, it appears the CBT will jump from $210MM in 2021 up to $230MM. Before the last offer the MLB submitted to the union four owners, including Ken Kendrick, voted against the measure of raising it to $220MM last week. The players were able to secure a win in that department, getting a 9.5% increase on what teams could spend before incurring penalties. Only the Dodgers and Padres exceeded the CBT threshold in 2021, although five other teams were within $3.5MM of that number. With that increase, the players are able to get more money collectively although raising the CBT likely affects those seven teams more than the other 23.
On the minimum salary front, the players get a huge boost from $570K in 2021 to $700K in 2022. That number will grow up to $780K in 2026, likely at $20K per year. Pre-arbitration eligible players will also receive a $50MM bonus pool that will be divided amongst the best players who are in that demographic. According to Travis Sawchik, this pool will be divided by the Top 100 players with a committee deciding on a formula (probably involving the Wins Above Replacement Metric) on how they get it. Pre-arb players will collectively bank another $115MM in earnings as a result of this CBA, a significant win for the union.
Another win on the players front is pre-arb players getting rewarded for excellence. There will be bonuses for players that make an All-MLB 1st and 2nd team, the top four spots in the MVP race, top five in the Cy Young, as well as the top two in Rookie of the Year. Travis Sawchik as the actual numbers for you:
Also bonuses for All-MLB 1st and 2nd team awards. Rest of pool is spread among top 100 pre-arb players based upon some sort of WAR metric TBD— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) March 10, 2022
With pre-arbitration players able to earn more money than ever before, the next question to be asked is about service time manipulation. It’s more about team control, but also to keep salaries down. Part of the agreement includes that players who finish near the Top in awards voting would be awarded a full year’s of service time instead of a partial year. We can call that the Kris Bryant provision in the deal. It likely means that players that place well in the Rookie of the Year vote that played nearly a full season could be awarded a full season. In addition, teams could be rewarded draft picks for starting rookies on Opening Day and those players finish near the top of Rookie of the Year voting. While this is not a perfect solution for service manipulation, it’s better than what existed before and the players signed off on it.
2022 Season Impact
With the CBA being hammered out later than initially anticipated, the first question is how will the season unfold, fortunately it appears to be minimally disruptive.
Opening Day is April 7.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) March 10, 2022
Spring training games will start about March 18-20
Full season, full pay, season will be extended 3 days with doubleheaders to make up for April 7 Opening Day.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) March 10, 2022
Despite the contentious negotiations, we will have a full 162-game season in 2022, with players receiving full pay. Opening Day tentatively scheduled around April 7th. To account for the time missed on the calendar due to those negotiations, there will be scheduled doubleheaders and the season will be extended 3 days.
For free agents, the qualifying offer will no longer be subject to draft pick forfeiture as soon as next year’s draft. Players that were given a qualifying offer after the 2021 season are still subject to this system, but it will be the last year we see it.
DH to the NL. 12-team playoff (avoided 14 ... fo now). Probable for 2023: bigger bases, no shifts, and a pitch clock. Younger players see their biggest % raise in a long time... But nothing much to force the bottom-spenders to improve their product. Draft lottery is eyewash.— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) March 10, 2022
The most notable changes now being reported by Sawchik also include the designated hitter coming to the National League and a 12-team playoff structure with the possibility of adding pitch clocks, bigger bases, a ban or reduction on shifts, and a draft lottery as early as next season. The DH probably comes as good news to players such as Seth Beer, who is an MLB-ready bat that doesn’t have a real opportunity to play due to lacking the physical tools to hold a position. Additionally, the 12-team playoff means that there is an opportunity for each league to send in 6 teams. While the D-backs are nowhere near playoff contention as of right now, adding an extra spot does shorten the path by a couple wins.
The potential changes to play are the more interesting pieces, as the pace of play and the relative inaction in games has struggled to grab the attention of younger generations. Pitch clocks have been instituted in the minor leagues as well as the Arizona Fall League, with pitchers and batters penalized for taking too long. Early returns suggest that the pitch clock has led to more balls in play, which may help in combatting the dramatic increase of plate appearances that end in the three true outcomes (strikeout, walk, home run). The sample size is a bit smaller, but I think that type of change is one I’d welcome to speed up the pace of the game and make it more entertaining.
In addition to the floated rules changes mentioned, MLB is also looking to establish a rules committee. This committee will be a group of four active players, six league appointees, and an MLB umpire (as long as it’s not Angel Hernandez, that’s a start). It will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out as the league basically has a majority vote by itself. This could also mean the possibility of seeing an automated strike zone in the near future, since every time an umpire misses a strike call it’s all over Twitter and other places. The next five years of potential rules changes could be interesting, especially since it has a different voting system than the NFL, which has all 32 teams vote on it.
The deal also includes anti-tanking measures that start with a lottery for the first six picks in the draft alongside penalties for teams landing near the bottom of the standings for multiple consecutive seasons. That’s something we’ll need to take a deeper look at since we know how well-run this team is. With the likely threshold of wins going down from 88 to 86 to make the playoffs in my estimate, I have no idea what moves teams I consider soft contenders will do to try to bolster their chances at making a postseason run. The Wild Card round will feature the bottom two division winners and two wild card teams in a Best of 3 series. I believe that is a significant improvement, as teams won’t get beat by one pitching or hitting performance.
Additionally, the Rule 5 Draft has been canceled so we don’t have to sweat out losing Levi Kelly or other unprotected players from getting plucked from the organization until next off-season. With the amount of craziness that’s bound to happen with player transactions, they all decided to scrap this for the time being.
Now that this is over with, let’s enjoy some relative labor peace for the next five seasons.